We had lived in the UAE nearly a year and we hadn’t been to the desert yet. With the change in the weather, mainly that it was cooling down, this fact needed to change. I mean, do you know how cool it is to live here?! Us westerners usually have to travel far and wide to see uninterrupted, stunning desert like this. Pictures are one thing, to be out there is altogether another.
After pestering Matt for multiple weekends, he agreed to set off to the Liwa Desert area, which is part of the Empty Quarter to explore a little bit. I say explore because it sounds exotic and romantic, but we really just drove out (2 hrs), took pictures and drove home. We’ve got dogs and a toddler (responsibilities); Wilfred Thesiger* we are not. This was just to whet our (mostly my) appetite.
On the way, we stopped for a quick fika at the Liwa Hotel** (in/at the Liwa Oasis…which oddly looked a bit like wine country CA to me? probably just me…), to pass some time before late afternoon/sunset, when we were aiming to get photos. This was a great idea, as it gave us a chance to get out of the car after a couple hour drive. Their date cake is amazing, and Matt talks about driving out there again for more. Plus, they have a great playground to get the toddler crazies out!
There is a 25 km road that leads from Liwa to Moreeb Dune (largest dune in the UAE), which is the road we took. It’s a two lane, winding road through the undulating, wind-swept dunes at the edge of the desert. Seriously, it’s so gorgeous and surreal.
Once you find the end of the road, where Moreeb Dune is, there are grounds for camel races, festivals, off-roading, and another playground. We were there on a Saturday evening, so it was empty, but we did watch a man swiftly maneuver down Moreeb Dune effortlessly in his Jeep. He pulled up alongside us just afterward, I think looking for people to off-road with, and Matt basically just drooled over his vehicle while explaining we were just a dorky family out taking pictures. He was a very nice, smiley Emirati man, and we passed him a few more times while in the area.
It’s really incredible being there, even for such a short time as we were. We climbed a few easy dunes next to the road to take pictures and play with camera settings (I received a new camera for my birthday, thanks Matt!). I wanted to get some sunset shots but the sun sets fast! The sunrises and sunsets here in the UAE are always spectacular, beautiful events every day, but out in the desert where you can get to a vantage point overlooking the rolling dunes, watching the sun go down…that’s what I live for! Nature, man.
We raced up the road to a higher point to catch some of the last bit of sun, and as we were up on a dune goofing off taking family selfies, the Emirati man in the Jeep drove by again and turned off the road across from us. He got out and said his evening prayers, right there. Witnessing men praying at sundown isn’t uncommon while driving on roads not close to mosques, and it’s always nice to see someone praying – no matter the religion – because prayer is holy and peaceful. But seeing this man pray in that moment, there are no words to describe the beauty of it. Everything was calm, the colors were surreal, it was as close to heaven as you could get. A very special moment to appreciate.
It was a really awesome day. There are countless companies that take people out for full days of dune bashing and some cultural Emirati experiences (tea, camels, henna, etc.), but we haven’t participated in any yet just because I think Porter is too young to tag along. It was amazing to finally get out and see some desert, though. What an incredible place.
*Wilfred Thesiger lived an incredible life and I’m obsessed with his book Arabian Sands, in which he recounts his time traversing the Empty Quarter and living among the Bedu.
**If you live in the UAE or are going to visit and want to come play in the sand, the Liwa Hotel would be a great destination hotel. There is also the Qasr al Sarab resort hotel, which looks like absolute heaven to stay at. Both are on the edge of the Liwa Desert. I’m not being paid or anything to say this…just a head’s up!